“If You’ve Got Customers, Then You’ve Probably Got a Gladys.”

Born into a family of entrepreneurs, keynote speaker Marilyn Suttle has business in her blood. As well as delivering motivational speeches and practical workshops to help organisations improve their customer service management, Marilyn also coaches professionals on how to realise their potential, achieve their goals and maximise their success.

Having worked with internatMarilyn_Suttleional brands like the Ford Motor Company, Kimberley Clarke and Pfizer Corporations, Marilyn’s approach focuses mainly on helping teams reignite their passion, communicate more powerfully and increasing understanding of the emotional impacts behind every customer interaction.

Her site, ‘Who’s Your Gladys?‘ is an essential go-to for any company seeking to boost their customer relationships; their outreach, and their loyalty rate. We sat down with Marilyn to talk about her practices, her self-made company Suttle Enterprises, and the question of what exactly is a ‘Gladys’?

So the first thing we want to know, is how you got started in the motivational speaking field. What is it that makes you want to see businesses and individuals thrive?

As a little child, customer service and how people run businesses was very much a part of my upbringing. My dad owned a little bar, a corner bar…but when he passed away there were so many people at his funeral, because of what a wonderful person he was and the way he went above and beyond for his customers. There were so many stories about how he impacted their lives. And that became the blueprint for my life – how important it is to take care of the people you serve.

I started out as a corporate consultant, and when I started a small I.T business with my husband, I found that I liked training. I wanted to train people, and that’s where my passion lied. So after a number of years I started a branch of the business that focused specifically on training. And though I hadn’t thought it was the right field for me, I found my passion through it.

Your website is titled ‘Who’s Your Gladys?’, so tell us…who is Gladys?

Gladys represents the customer that pushes your every nerve…the one that challenges you…the one that gives you just a little bit more than what you think you can handle. But she’s also the one that if you can make her happy, she can spread wonderful good news about you.

I originally came up with Gladys from the Bewitched series – she was that nosy neighbour that got into everybody’s business. And I thought, there’s always that person who, for some its the cold and austere person; for others its the loud and in-your-face person…we all have a different Gladys. There are customers that shouldn’t be your customers, but that’s not Gladys. She’s a tough one, but when you make the tough ones happy, you change your business.

What can businesses and companies do to identify their ‘Gladyses’?

You know you have a Gladys when you get that feeling in the pit of your stomach…when your throat gets tight or you feel challenged in some way. And that is a gift. Gladys is a gift because she helps you grow and become more competent. If you can be good with Gladys, you’re going to be amazing with all your regular customers.

Your work is focused on emotional management skills and building happier and more positive relationships. How does this help to form the basis of customer service?

Oh, it is the core. Relationships equals customer service. And I don’t know about the UK, but in the US right now, stats show that 70% of our workforce is disengaged. 70% – that’s a crazy number.

I believe that within a company we have what’s called internal customer service, so what’s happening on the inside eventually shows up on the outside. So the need for really clear communication and strong relationships is the core way of becoming a successful business that can weather any economic uncertainty.

And every engagement you have with your customer on any platform has an emotional impact. Whether its over the phone, over chat, on a website…even an automated conversation…it all sends a message. And I’m a big proponent that every touchpoint with your company creates an experience.

You talk about creating a culture in which compassionate connections with customers are created. How can companies do this, and how can they tell when such a culture has been achieved?

Number one is really caring about your employees…realising that a worker will be passionate about his work if he sees meaning in his work. So putting them in the right positions and then allowing them to grow – giving them opportunities to learn and grow – will help to ignite their passion through work. In business you can set up a nurturing environment for your employees to do well. It doesn’t mean they will do well, but the environment will provide the tools for them to rise and achieve their best.

Plenty of companies say, “Okay, we’re going to focus on creating this culture.” But then they get busy…and they stop celebrating successes; they stop focusing. They stop encouraging, and they stop appreciating, because they’re so busy. Appreciation goes a long way in keeping people engaged, and the same applies to customers. You know you’re on track when someone who is not a salesperson from the company is praising the company…like when the truck driver is saying how great the company is, or when the janitor down the hall is smiling and whistling to himself.

The culture within a company is also not how things are right now, but how things have been. Customer service is not immediate, the results are not immediate, and that’s why people forget to do customer service. You can let it slack, and you’re not going to see the results until a few months down the line. And if you want a really strong service culture, you need to be tapping into your frontline regularly. Because they’re living it, and they know so much.

What are some proactive ways in which companies can form strong bonds with their customers, beyond the initial customer service transaction?

There are several things. One is to be responsive. If you can know what they want before they know it; if you can keep track of somebody who orders regularly and anticipate their needs, reaching out to them and asking them if they’re ready for the next order instead of waiting for them to run out of a product; if you can be on social media as a solution-finder before they even know there’s problem…responsiveness is really important.

The problem in many cases is that the sales department is strong but the service department is weak, and that can really turn a customer sour. Having a really strong customer service philosophy, that customer service is not a department, but every employee’s job…can ensure that after a sale the customer is still reached out to. Not to be sold to, but to be of service; to check in. And also to offer extras, asking questions like, “What else might  this customer want?” Companies need to follow up and follow through – there’s always a loop and you need to close it.

And for customers that complain, say thank you. That same thing could have been happening to ten or twenty customers before them, so thank them for complaining, and ask them to tell you more. Only Gladyses will complain. Most other people will just turn around and find another company to work with.

What can readers expect from your new book, ‘Who’s Your Gladys?’, which is available for Amazon Kindle and in paperback?

What this book delivers is more than a book. Within the book is whole workbook, so not only will readers get the stories that inspire, they’ll also get seven practical takeaways from each chapter that they can apply to their company. There are Q & As, so readers can test their knowledge, and I list the practical points so they can ask themselves on a scale of one to ten how well they’re implementing it. So its not just a book – its a resource that keeps working for you.

What are some companies and brands you believe offer excellent quality of service?

Well, Singapore Airlines is just amazing. I was so impressed with them that they’re in our book as an example of just supreme service.

Another one would be Paul Reed Smith Guitars – these are the guitars that the rock stars use, and there is a reason for that. Talk about passion and creating a culture of service! Paul has every employee involved in the process of building a guitar sign their name inside the guitar before its closed up, so its almost like each guitar is owned by everyone who’s built and worked on it. And that passion goes through to the point where their customer service director has a fan page…like people online are literally fans of his customer service, its crazy!

And then there’s companies like Zappos. Their mission statement is about giving good customer service, not selling shoes. They are a customer service company that happens to sell shoes – not a shoe company that happens to give customer service.

During your years of life coaching, what are some parallels you’ve seen between personal development and professional development?

I always say that personal growth leads to professional success. One of the of the biggest myths is that we have to work ourselves to death. And the truth is, self-care is good for business. If you had a choice between two companies, and you meet a haggard, stress-out person from one company and a bright-eyed, enthusiastic rested person from the other…you’re going the trust the person that looks healthy and hasuttleshifts good well-being. If that means taking a break and walking when you’re stressed, or allowing yourself a little decompression time, you’re actually serving the people you work with and serving your customers better.

A company that can create less stress, and more enthusiasm and passion for the work…that’s the company that’s going to excel.

Marilyn’s new book, ‘Who’s Your Gladys?: How To Turn Even the Most Difficult Customer Into Your Biggest Fan’ is available now in both paperback and via Amazon for Kindle.

To see how Marilyn could help you or your company, visit her website whosyourgladys.com, or tweet Marilyn @marilynsuttle.